GE Wants To Redesign Your Breast Cancer Experience

The health care company’s New York studio invites women to help improve approaches to mammography and breast cancer.

GE Wants To Redesign Your Breast Cancer Experience

GE wants you to share your mammography and/or breast cancer experience. Luckily, I’ve never had the latter, but like most women, I’ve endured the former, and as any woman can tell you, it ain’t fun.


Here’s what it looks like: Step into a dimly lit room, with a giant, scary piece of equipment, dressed in one of those weird hospital gowns that you can’t really figure out how to tie. Radiation technologist says, “Please stand sideways and put boob on shelf, while draping your armpit over a pointy metal corner of the equipment.” Much fussing over correct placement of cupcake. Feet forward, jug pointing toward the wall. When body part is in correct alignment, technician lowers vise–-hard!-–on same, squeezing the poor puppy into something like the mammary version of Flat Stanley. She steps behind a screen, then zaps the little sucker with radiation. Repeat.

That’s the easy part. Next comes waiting a couple days for a breast cancer detector to sound the all-clear.

There must be a better way.

To figure out what that might look like, GE is holding an open studio called For Women By Women, every Saturday in October, from 12 p.m.-5 p.m., at 382 West Broadway, in New York’s Soho, to encourage women to stop by and share their experiences on the topic with a team of designers. Women outside New York can chime in via the company’s Facebook page.

The outreach is part of a larger, $1B commitment to cancer that the company announced last month that includes a $100 million innovation challenge to find and fund ideas to accelerate both the detection of breast cancer and enable more personalized treatment.

The studio is a discreet installation, conceived by the New York interaction design group Sub Rosa, barely discernible but for the GE logo faintly visible on the etched glass doors. Inside is a stylishly appointed space, tricked out with conversational groupings of Steelcase furniture, French press coffee, and artsy renderings of pink-stained cancer cells.


Downstairs is a model of what a “pleasant” version of a mammography room might look like, complete with a choice of soothing visual wall projections (Sierra Club poster, zenlike rocks, rose petals, clouds, grass) and an aromatherapy device spritzing the calming scent of lavender, ostensibly to distract a woman from the experience described above.

During the week, a team of designers will use the space to convene discussions and workshops around the theme, based on research conducted with a group of breast cancer survivors, the feedback from the weekly open houses, and suggestions enlisted from the online audience.

The breast cancer groups, an ethnically and economically diverse group led by IDEO researcher Keren Amit, will be asked, for example, to chart the emotional highs and lows of their journey, to answer a Mad-Libs-like questionnaire about their experience, and to document their thoughts via video cameras, which they’ll take home and use to film everything from artifacts explaining who they are to conversations with friends and family. “We wanted to give them a way to express their insights and emotions in a visually compelling way,” Amit says.

Ultimately, GE, which has the world’s largest installed base of mammography equipment, hopes to use the information gathered to improve every woman’s experience with mammography and breast cancer, not only by designing better devices for detection but by partnering with health care organizations that can put their findings to work.

As any woman can attest, there’s lots of room for improvement.

About the author

Linda Tischler writes about the intersection of design and business for Fast Company.